|Cringing in Terror by William Blake|
We are born as playful unconditionally loving beings - irreverent, cheeky, comfortable with the biological processes of our own bodies. And since our nearest biological relatives - the bonobos (once known as pygmy chimpanzees) - share these qualities with human babies, we can guess that our pre-human ancestors carried these same qualities into adulthood.
So why is that we have such a tendency to lose this happy state and end up caught up in our own lonely ego-cages of misery and self-loathing - angry, selfish, intolerant, arrogant. Why do we collapse into depression or live as slaves to irrational fears? And, as a species, why did we exchange the loving carefree life of our pre-human ancestors - as seen in the playfulness and uninhibited but unaggressive sexuality of the bonobos - for a path that led to war, torture, genocide, rape and madness?
Fear is the answer. How it began has to be a matter of speculation even for myself as an individual. When did I first feel afraid? And when did I first start to build the prison I hoped would protect me from that fear? I can't say. It's too far back.
What I do know is where that strategy took me, what it did to me and how I found my way out. And the aim of my book How to Be Free is to share what I learned, to provide, as best I can, a roadmap out of Hell. And I don't use the word lightly. It would perhaps be hard for people who have only met me recently to believe that I was once locked up in a hospital with my hands and feet strapped to a bed begging the doctors and nurses to kill me. There may be no Hell below us in the physical sense, but the frightened or guilty mind can be an instrument of torture more fiendish than anything dreamt of by the Inquisition.
Our culture, our parents, our teachers, our religions, our mental health experts... all have given us ideas about our own psychology and about how we should think or behave. Many of these ideas are not helpful to us. They are anti-therapeutic. This is to be expected. The human neurosis predates civilisation. The ideas of our parents, our teachers, our religions, our mental health experts are a part of it. Even where a rare individual was free of the disease, or nearly so, as in the case of Jesus, their attempts to show the path to freedom were misinterpreted and ended up being contaminated by their neurotic, fear-dominated followers.
An end to the human neurosis required two things - clear ideas which bring insight to our condition and the right environment for those ideas to flourish. Jesus had the right ideas, but the world was not ready to hear, and so he was crucified and his philosophy of liberation was turned into just another form of fear-driven enslavement. The psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich tried to point this out in 1953 in his book The Murder of Christ. He too tried to show the way out of what he called "the trap". Many of his books were ordered to be burned and he died in jail shortly after writing that book. The ostensible reason was that he was promoting a form of cancer therapy not authorised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The time was not yet right. Those with the greatest fear of freedom had too much power.
There may not be all that much which is new in the ideas I put forward in my book, though I hope that I have expressed them more simply and directly than they have sometimes been expressed in the past. But what is different now is that the time is ripe. And my book is only one of many manifestations of the change - of the new world being born. That such a time would come is something which runs like a thread of gold through the mythologies and religions of the world. The New Age Movement, for all its irrationalities, is an expression of faith in it and a collection of practical aids towards its coming into being.
What is happening now which makes this new world of freedom possible is that the old ways are breaking down, at least in some parts of the world. Unorthodox ideas are not routinely quashed as they often were in the past. And we have the internet which makes censorship of ideas impossible. In 1950s America they could burn Wilhelm Reich's books. In the year 2012, an idea can be incorporated in a viral video and no-one can stop it from spreading.
I sometimes think that the most powerful truths are paradoxes. We have been taught something which seems, on the surface, to make perfect sense, but, in time, experience teaches us that it is, in fact, the opposite of the truth.
There is much in ourselves or in our society which we view as evil. What do we do about evil? Of course, we fight against it. But what actually happens when we do that?
This was my personal dilemma. There I was as a teenager plagued by thoughts of killing a baby. I had discovered evil within myself, and I struggled with it mightily. I tried to put it out of my mind. I wrestled endlessly with the question of why it was there. I didn't trust myself to be around a baby. This was only one of many such fears that I would have throughout my life. I was suffering from a condition which psychiatrists call Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
What I learned from my experience of OCD, was that fighting against the thoughts or feelings only makes the situation worse. There is a big difference between doing something and thinking about something. And thinking about something makes us no more likely to actually do it. In fact, in most cases, it makes us less likely to act rashly. Now I can happily imagine playing football with an infant as the ball. It's so ridiculous that it reminds me how big a gap there is between a thought and a deed.
You might think this only has relevance to someone suffering from OCD, but it has relevance for everyone, because the path to Paradise, for most of us, is paved with some pretty scary thoughts and feelings or thoughts and feelings we have been taught to feel shame about. This is why the path towards freedom has been a narrow one seldom braved while the path towards slavery has been a broad highway indeed.
One person who helped me tremendously along this path was theatrical improvisation teacher Keith Johnstone in his book Impro : Improvisation and the Theatre. I can't recommend that book highly enough to anyone who wants practical advice on how to liberate their creativity. Johnstone learned from doing group improvisations that when the spontaneous imagination is opened up in this way the nature of the improvisations goes through certain stages :
Word-at-a-time letters usually go through four stages : (1) the letters are usually cautious or nonsensical and full of concealed sexual references; (2) the letters are obscene and psychotic; (3) they are full of religious feeling; (4) finally, they express vulnerability and loneliness.We can see that the defences - the levels of neurosis - are being stripped away. If this is an example of the path back to our true free selves - and from my own experience I believe that it is - we can see why we might be reluctant to follow it. As soon as we start having obscene and psychotic thoughts we are liable to run back up the path. And atheists will be kind of freaked out if they find themselves having religious feelings. But it should also be seen that the religious feelings are themselves a level of protection from the state of raw naked vulnerability. And we may not want to be there if we are there alone, but the loneliness of that state is only love cut off from someone who is open to our love. If there were more of us there it would not be a lonely place to be.
So much of our problem comes from fearing what is inside us and seeking to control it. Once we realise that our thoughts and feelings will not hurt us we can let go of this fear and the rigid forms of thinking and behaving which it requires of us. We can be free.
And that which is within is mirrored by that which is without. It is not the purpose of this blog to critique social policy. That is a matter far too complex for someone as simple as myself. But it is worth noting that the more we have come to fear various social ills - violent crime, drug addiction, child pornography, terrorism, mental illness, environmental devastation - and the more that fear has driven us towards strategies of control whether it be the war on terror, the war on drugs, carbon taxes, censorship of the internet, anti-psychotic drugs, etc., the worse those problems have got.
Perhaps we will one day find that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
|The Laughing Buddha - a depiction of the irreverent joyfulness of freedom|